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New Delhi: Observing that freebies and social welfare schemes are two different things, the Supreme Court on Thursday said a balance has to be struck between the economy losing money and welfare measures.

The Supreme Court also ruled out the possibility of considering a plea for de-recognising parties for making promises to give freebies.

Asking stakeholders to give suggestions on this aspect before August 17, a bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justice Krishna Murari said the idea to de-recognise political parties for making promises to give irrational freebies during the polls was undemocratic .

“I do not want to enter the area of de-registering a political party etc. as it is an undemocratic idea…We are a democracy after all,” the CJI, speaking for the bench, said.

The CJI said the issue of promise to grant irrational freebies during the poll process is a serious issue but he will not encroach into the legislative domain even if there was a statutory vacuum on the issue.

“You can call me reluctant or conservative but I do not want to encroach upon the legislative domain…I am a strict orthodox. I do not want to encroach on the areas meant for the legislature. This is a serious issue. It is not an easy thing. Let us hear others also,” the bench said.

The CJI, who is demitting office on August 26, said some suggestions have been made by senior lawyers and asked the remaining parties to do the needful before his retirement and fixed the case for further hearing on August 17.

“Freebies and the social welfare scheme are different…Economy losing the money and the welfare of people, both have to be balanced and that is why, this debate. There must be someone who can put their vision and thoughts. Please submit something before my retirement,” the CJI said.

The top court was hearing a PIL filed by lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay, which opposes the practice of political parties promising freebies during elections and seeks the Election Commission to invoke its powers to freeze their election symbols and cancel their registration.

Taking note of the submissions of senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for Upadhyay, the bench said it is a serious issue and those who are getting (the freebies), they want it. “Ours is a welfare state. Some may say that they are paying taxes and it has to be used for developmental processes…So both sides have to be heard by the committee,” the bench said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said, the distribution of freebies has been elevated to the level of an art by some parties recently. “Elections are fought only on this plank. It is unfortunate that in the country’s election spectrum some parties understand that the distribution of free things is the only way of welfare measures for society. This understanding is completely unscientific and will lead to an economic disaster,” Mehta said.

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